Long Story Short: Looking at lunch

The land of plenty’s problems with food are well documented.
Who among us hasn’t heard lengthy discourses on the value of eating healthier?
Leafy greens. Fiber. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Smaller portions. Easy on the carbs and fats. Watch the sugar. Drink more water.
Then there’s the way we eat and think about food that most of us know well.
Take it slow. Using candy or other sweets as a reward to bribe good behavior out of children isn’t wise. When it comes to making healthy food choices, presentation plays a bigger role than most would expect – especially when it comes to kids. Basic table manners make good digestive sense.
While I’m a firm believer in children having the opportunity to learn where ever they are, school, for all its rights and wrongs, is — for many children – the place where the most learning takes place. The very purpose of going to school is to learn.
What are our children learning in school about food and eating?
The consensus I hear from public school students and teachers alike is: Eat fast.
I’ve asked administrators about the short amount of time allotted for lunch. The response has focused on allowing less time in the cafeteria means fewer behavior problems. I understand. However, I also understand the long-term implications of lunches akin to competitive sprints.
What our students are eating is another matter altogether. Maybe you remember hot plate lunches from decades past. Those days, my dear reader, are gone.
In a place that is known for good cooking, serving many a lunchroom meal must be a bittersweet experience for the cafeteria worker who knows good food. In defense of the school system’s food services staff, their budgets are meager. No doubt, they’re doing the best they can.
The logistics of planning, cooking and feeding the children of Lafayette Parish every day is a throwback to five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000. The results seem to be short of miraculous.
We owe the next generation better than what they’re getting when it comes to lunch at school. I know the problem is a big one. I know the resources are slim. I know there is resistance to change.
I also know there is a better way. The people of Acadiana are folks who know how to solve a problem – just look at how people in Vermilion Parish handled the Hurricane Rita rebuilding. There was no whining. They just did it.
The long-term costs of poor eating habits will be extreme. Even if your child eats tastier lunches in private schools or lunches from home, he or she will help pay the price for a generation whose poor eating patterns were set long ago. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease statistics are sure to climb.
This community has an opportunity to make a long-term positive impression on the lives of students. There are few better ways to a person’s heart than the stomach. The possibilities for change go far beyond what’s being scooped on a plate.
I challenge parents, businesses, school board members, faculty, administrators, healthcare professionals and other community leaders to do some investigating – beyond a cursory glance at the menus. Take a look at how much time a student has to eat – once he or she leaves the classroom, waits in line and sits at a table.
From there, take an investigative approach. Look at how other school districts across the country are feeding their students. Many do it better – and for not much more money to the district or the student.
Eating healthier, higher-quality, better-looking food happens at many school districts across the country. Students also have enough time to eat with a register of dignity and manners.
Our students deserve just as much.

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